Iowa regents looking at 5 percent tuition increase this fall

Move comes in wake of state funding cuts

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COUNCIL BLUFFS — In the wake of state funding cuts that have taken $30 million from their base state support, outgoing Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Thursday called on the board to work with the public universities in the coming months on additional tuition increases for the fall.

Although details are being ironed out, Rastetter said the office and its universities are considering adding another 3 percent increase to the already approved 2 percent tuition increases.

In the next few days, the board is to notify the public about its plans to hold a special meeting on the proposed tuition increase, with plans for a first reading at the end of May. The second, final reading would come during the board’s June meeting.

“It’s really a different dynamic that the regents are facing than they’ve faced in the last six to eight years,” Rastetter said. “Dramatically decreased state revenues aren’t allowing the state, or the state chooses not, to fund the public universities ... and, in fact, significantly cuts the base.”

Lawmakers in recent months have pulled back $21.4 million in state appropriations from University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa in the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Additionally, the Republican-controlled Legislature proposed reduced regent support in the 2018 budget year. The legislative proposal, which has passed the House and Senate and is on its way to the governor, pares back funding for operations at UI and ISU by 6.25 percent compared with the 2017 budget passed one year ago. UNI would get about 3.2 percent less.

Regents last year approved a “2+2” tuition-funding model that proposed increasing tuition in each of the next two years by 2 percent, and no more, so long as state support increased by 2 percent annually as well.

In January — even in light of a first round of 2017 cuts taking back $18 million — Rastetter said “tuition is set” and hikes for the 2017-2018 school year would not go beyond the approved 2 percent increase.

That, however, was before proposals emerged for continuing cuts in 2018.

Rastetter said the funding decline beyond 2017 prompted discussion around steeper tuition hikes for next fall, “because the reality is, there’s going to be harm to the quality of education if we don’t do that.”

He added, “We would have loved nothing better than to live up to the 2+2 had state revenues been there.”

The already approved 2 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduate students in the next school year would bring rates to $7,270 at UI and $7,240 at ISU and UNI. Non-resident, graduate, and professional students — along with those in more expensive programs — also will see increases next year.

Rastetter on Thursday raised the possibility of giving the universities more control over setting tuition in the future — something UI President Bruce Harreld has urged. Rastetter suggested the campuses’ basic resident undergraduate rates could, for the first time in a long time, diverge from each other.

Those issues would be discussed in a new task force the board wants to form this summer involving regents, lawmakers and other stakeholders. That group, according to Rastetter, will be charged with discussing future funding for Iowa’s public universities “so that we can plan on what those numbers will look like going forward, from a tuition standpoint, if the state isn’t going to be there as a partner.”

Rastetter further called on the Legislature to take a more holistic approach to its education funding — considering seriously whether it can afford all the educational enterprises it currently supports.

“The pre-K-12, the community college system, the Iowa tuition grant program and properly funding the regents,” he said. “If there is a change, the legislators need to tell us that earlier and be involved in the discussions and understanding what the regent decisions are, rather than the regents like today having to react.”

Faculty leaders speaking to the board on Thursday supported alternative tuition models, while also blasting the state for its floundering support.

UI Faculty Senate President Thomas Vaughn said he believes “regent universities need flexibility in both the salary and tuition policies so they can each pursue their own unique missions.”

ISU Faculty Senate President Jonathan Sturm echoed that sentiment — although reluctantly.

“We have reached a tipping point,” Sturm said. “The time has arrived where decisions resulting from state and regent action will require faculty to consider cutting the curriculum and class offerings.”

He said students imminently will pay a steep education price “as the best faculty leave the state for greener pastures and the ones who remain struggle with the increased burden of massive class sizes,” forcing them to cancel courses due to too few resources.

“I expect tuition increases will have to be considered to offset this untenable environment in which we find ourselves,” Sturm said, noting ISU’s student government recently went public with a statement vowing “zero tolerance for any more tuition increases.”

In the Iowa State Daily last week, student senator Austin Nixon wrote, “Instead of finding ways to make budget cuts internally, our university officials continue to throw the students under the bus by advocating that the students pick up the price tag of their own financial mismanagement and inability to properly prepare for instances the university currently faces with the budget cuts.”

Sturm conceded tuition hikes undermine “the very ideals of public education.”

“But if the state will not assume its share of the responsibility to fund public education ... it then becomes the regents responsibility to raise tuition to ensure that Iowa State universities can continue to provide a world class education and research agenda,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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